The Task Of Creating A Terrific Tartan!

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Last year, the Fashion Business program initiated a student and alumni contest to design an official Genesee Community College plaid. The spectacular winning design was created by the talented alumnus Michael Moultrap, a resident of Batavia, who holds an Associate’s degree in Human Services (1999) as well as Digital Art (2011). Under the watchful eye of instructor extraordinaire Donna Ehrhart the unprecedented project blossomed into a range of silk scarves, neck ties, and bow ties.

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These 100% silk products have been very well received since their inception! They featured at GCC’s first ever Dandy Day, a scholarly tribute to the stylish and eccentric gentleman, with special guest speaker Rose Callahan, author of the noted “I am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman.” Several scarves and ties also travelled to NYC, as esteemed participants on the annual Fashion Program field trip. These meaningful and affordable accessories are now on sale for just $20 each by contacting GCC’s Fashion Business Office at 585-345-6830.

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The story doesn’t stop there though! Recently Professor Ehrhart was the proud recipient of an Academic Innovation Award for $1,785. This incredible achievement enabled the funding of the next great stage of this groundbreaking project for the college. Upon securing this grant Professor Ehrhart set out to contact the Weaver’s Guild of Rochester to inquire about having someone hand weave the tartan, in able to have it officially registered by the Scottish Register of Tartans. This was a momentous undertaking.

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Professional custom weaver Kathy Cairns Hendershott decided to take up the charge, and the planning process began! Located out of Warsaw Mrs. Hendershott is a regular vendor at the Letchworth Arts & Crafts Show, and likes to take on the unique challenge of weaving a stretch tartan every year, to keep in practice.

Tartans are slow and exacting tests of a weaver’s consistency, skill, and patience. A different shuttle has to be used for each color, which has to be put aside and changed every time the colors change, sometimes every four rows, sometimes every twenty eight rows. This makes the weaving speed significantly slower than a one-shuttle weave. The GCC tartan has to be constructed according to the exacting standards used by traditional tartan weavers- each color has to be an even number of threads in a traditional 2/2 twill. The colors need to come as close as possible to official Genesee Community College colors and still remain pleasing when combined in a tartan. A 5/2 Perle cotton is decided on for luster, strength, and density.

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As a custom hand weaver Mrs. Hendershott sets a minimum of fifteen yards for a custom fabric order. This is because it takes about twenty hours or more, to “dress the loom”, whether it’s for one yard or a hundred yards. Between winding, spreading, beaming, threading, and tying, the total time put in before the actual weaving starts, is about thirty hours!

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After the tartan is constructed on the loom it has to undergo a washing process. To account for take-up and shrinkage after the fabric is washed she must weave twenty yards in order to achieve the desired seventeen yards of finished fabric. Being washed in plenty of water allows the threads to shift and take their final place. It also removes the spinning oil used at the thread manufacturer, any dirt or oil on the weaver’s hands, and allows the thread to “bloom”- soften and enlarge to its final form.

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To complete this project Mrs. Hendershott ultimately put in ninety hours of labor intensive work. Genesee Community College now has an official woven tartan! Now it’s up to the students in the Fashion Business program to make some beautiful garments with it! This weaving is part of the Fashion Design student project which will begin next year.

It all started with Donna Ehrhart’s commitment to excellence, and striving to take GCC’s Fashion Business program beyond expectations on all levels. I for one cannot wait to get my hands on one of these precious garments, especially after coming to understand the amount of time and craftsmanship that goes into the very threads of the fabric they will be cut from.

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